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Stories from the Scotsman
Weir's Way: this year's cult TV hit

IN A world where television is increasingly based on sensationalism and humiliation, one would have assumed that Tom Weir’s day had long gone.

The gentle little man, with his munchkin face and funny hat, never ejected anyone from the Big Brother house and he was far too gentlemanly to ever describe someone as the weakest link.

Touching 90, he is less able to wander his beloved Scotland, the richness of which he gifted to huge audiences a generation ago in his weekly Weir’s Way.

A decade’s worth of televised jaunts around the country seemed to have been forever consigned to the archives.

But, now, in the middle of the night, on a television near you, the grand old man of the mountains, now 89, is enjoying a renaissance, his old-fashioned enthusiastic charm delighting a new audience, many of whom were not even born when Weir’s Way was first shown on Scottish Television.

More than 20 years later, Scottish and Grampian decided to drop the old episodes into their midnight-to-3am scheduling and the series is regularly attracting up to 72,000 viewers three times a week, a 30 per cent audience share, which has delighted the planners.

Its nearest competitor has been BBC’s In Search of Shakespeare, which achieved only 17 per cent, and the show regularly trounces BBC News 24 and less salubrious offerings from Five, Channel 4 and the digital networks.

Its fame has even spread to the web, where cyberfans are using chatrooms to exhort their fellow internet users "to check out the great wee guy on Scottish and Grampian".

And the old boy, a pioneer of working-class mountaineering in the Thirties, cannot walk the length of himself near his home in Dunbartonshire without being accosted by congratulatory fans.

While the planners are happy, but slightly bemused, at the show’s renewed popularity in the post-Big Brother era, Mr Weir is the least surprised of all.

On Loch Lomondside yesterday, in his natural habitat of loch and mountain, the old man, little changed from his television heyday, in spite of being on the eve of his 90th birthday, said: "I believe people are always interested in other people, as well as their homeland.

"We told their stories and described their lives against that beautiful backdrop of Scotland. I so enjoyed doing it and I hope that communicated itself to the audience. I was interested in everything they said. I would have done it even without a film crew."

Sandy Ross, the managing director of Scottish Television, believes Mr Weir is being unduly modest.

He said: "The immense charm that Tom brought to Weir’s Way is incredibly enduring, and I’d be happy with a 30 per cent audience share for every programme. It’s been hugely popular since we put it on. Only exceptionally good programmes can achieve that.

"One must also remember that Tom was a prototype for so many of the quirky television presenters who came after him. With his bobble-hat and big jumpers, he was instantly recognisable and his enthusiasm shone through."

Mr Weir, the brother of the veteran actress, Molly Weir, was born and bred in Springburn, in the north of Glasgow, on the eve of the First World War, an era so evocatively captured by his sister in her series of hugely popular autobiographies.

"I worked in a grocer’s shop all week. I could see the Campsie Fells and longed for weekends when I could hike and camp in them," he recalled.

It was a time when working class boys were not common on the hills, still a domain of the privileged, but he progressed from Scotland, to Britain, to Europe and the world, a progress which culminated with him standing on the roof of the world as part of the first post-war expedition to Everest.

He added: "I have done all I wanted to do. I have lived the life I dreamed of; by the time I did Weir’s Way, I was quite old and the programme was born of my desire to travel Scotland, my touchstone."

As well as a world-class mountaineer in his day, Mr Weir became a renowned naturalist, photographer and author.

He recently donated his entire collection of memorabilia, journals and photographs - a unique archive of a remarkable life - to Glasgow’s Mitchell Library.

He added: "I don’t get out on to the hills these days, but I still walk for at least an hour every day. Considering my age, my health is pretty good."

He is cared for by Rhona, his wife of 44 years, a delightful butterfly of a woman, who said: "We can’t go the length of ourselves without someone mentioning the programme is back on. I think a lot of people are taping it to watch during the day. It’s appeal doesn’t surprise me.

"No matter what kind of world we live in, the values and enduring charm of what Tom did has the ability to draw people of any generation to it.

"There’s no sex, no football and no Iraq, for a start."

The Scotsman

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